Helmet comparison: Bike vs climbing helmet

So, you’ve started rock climbing and now you want all the gear. Maybe Christmas is around the corner and there goes your wish list for Santa: climbing shoes, rope, a new belay device, you name it.

 But, what about a helmet? Because you know what your mum will say when she hears about your newfound hobby while you are home for the holidays, “Don’t forget to wear a helmet”.

That dusty old cycle helmet you’ve got lying around will do, right? Sorry to break it to you, but it won’t. Sure, it will be better than nothing, but to really be safe when climbing you should get yourself a climbing helmet. 

If you’re overwhelmed with the selection out there, don’t you worry. We wrote a whole review here on the blog, so check it out to figure out which helmet to buy.

 Now we will talk about why you need to get a climbing helmet and why a cycle helmet just won’t do.

Rock Climbing Helmet vs Bike Helmet: Differences in Appearance and Design

Bike helmets

 The biggest difference between rock climbing vs bike helmets is what they are designed to do. At first, it seems that, well, they kind of both just protect your head. But if we look into the design and appearance of those two helmets, we’ll quickly see how they are very much not the same.

A cycling helmet is meant to be aerodynamic and protect you from a single high-impact fall like during an accident, for example. It is designed for impacts at high speed, after which you will not be in danger of another impact, since your ride will probably be over and your helmet will retire.

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 A climbing helmet, however, protects you from rocks falling from above, while also protecting you from impacts from the sides and from behind. They are also designed to protect you against several low-impact collisions because you might not leave the “danger zone” after a rockfall, for example, as you might still be climbing.

Other visual differences are that bike helmets have more ventilation openings than climbing helmets, which we’ll talk about below.

Weight – The Safest Helmet is The One You Actually Wear

Helmet

When it comes to climbing, you’re going to want to go for the lightest possible gear. Helmets made especially for climbing will provide you the highest protection at the lowest weight by using modern materials and smart technologies like MIPS.

 Sure, the weights of different brands will vary, so when choosing your helmet, you’re going to have to make a decision between several factors like weight, protection and price. Another important thing to consider when looking at the weight is comfort. The lighter the helmet, the more comfortable it is and the more likely you will be to wear it. 

So, when you buy a helmet, make sure to try it on and make sure it sits well on your head without moving around.

Ventilation – Keeping it Cool

Ventilation is key, not just to keep you cool, but more ventilation can also mean less weight and more comfort for your head. Bike helmets typically have more and bigger ventilation holes that allow air to pass through while you ride. The problem with using a bike helmet for climbing is that those bigger ventilation openings could allow small rocks falling down on you to pass through the gaps and hit you on the head. Really something you’ll be trying to avoid.

Climbing helmets do have ventilation too, but the openings are typically smaller and fewer, as not to lose the protection of the helmet.

 Tech-Talk : Protection and MIPSclimbing Helmet illustration of rocks hitting helmet from above

This is going to be the most important and techy part of the article, where we talk about the protection your helmet gives you, and how the protection system works.

We all know that the main reason to wear a helmet is to protect your head. This is something many helmets can do, but you really need a climbing helmet to reduce the very specific risks of outdoor climbing.

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 When we fall, the impact can emit strong forces onto our brain and skull, which can lead to injuries or even brain damage. To avoid that, you want your helmet to protect you not only from falling objects but also from impacts from the side, which can occur when you hit your head while falling. Something a bike helmet is not designed to do.

MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) is a Swedish technology that aims to reduce the force transferred to the brain in off-angle hits. Science shows that those rotational forces are what cause the biggest damage to our brains because of the way it basically gets knocked around inside our skull. 

The MIPS sits between the comfort padding of the helmet and the foam layer, which allows your head to move within the helmet and therefore reduces the force of the impact and the harmful rotational motion.

Foam Types: EPP vs EPS

Person climbing

We already talked about the different designs of a climbing vs cycle helmet and this directly translates to the material that is used in them. In general, there are two different types of foam used in helmets that differ in the way they “recover” (or not), from impact.

 With a climbing helmet, you want materials that can withstand several smaller collisions and don’t collapse when they take a hit.

So, when it comes to the material within the helmets, the EPP (expanded polypropylene) is a type of foam that recovers some of its form after impact. This recovery comes with a little less efficiency in dispersing the force of the impact and is generally used in areas of multiple, low-impact collisions. Like climbing! 

For these reasons, this is why EPS material is not often used in cycling helmets, where the helmet has to be able to protect efficiently against a single big impact.

EPS (expanded polystyrene) however, is the foam that is more commonly used in bike helmets, because it is used in areas of heavy impact. It collapses under pressure and does not regain its shape, but does offer more protection for high-force collisions.

Headlamp Compatibility 

Another important point to consider is that you won’t be able to securely attach your headlamp onto a bike helmet. When you’re out on a multi pitch or doing some alpine climbing in the early hours, a headlamp will be essential gear for your safety and comfort.

 A climbing helmet with special clips to secure your headlamp is key for those kinds of adventures. On a bike helmet however, you simply won’t find this feature since the bike comes equipped with its own light.

Conclusion

There is no climbing helmet out there that is perfect for everybody because depending on your climbing style and destination, you will want different things. 

What is sure, however, is that a bike helmet will not give you the safety, coverage and specific design that you need to keep your head protected while on the rock. There are helmets that go for as little as $65 so think twice about where you want to save money when it comes to getting your climbing gear!

For further reading see: “Best Rock Climbing Helmet Reviews: Everything You Need to Know and Oh, So Much More” 

Published by Mirjam Boss